Saturday, February 2, 2013

Savvy Saturday: Pioneers in Film

Earlier this year I had posted about a man named Georges Méliès. I promised that you would hear more about him soon. I've been a immense fan of film since a was very little. I think that movies are one of the best art forms. They combine visuals with stories and touching music to create emotions (if done well). You can walk out of a theater a changed person.

So I thought I would give ode to one of the pioneers of film making. Georges Méliès. He was the first to create a narrative movie (a movie with a plot). He was the leader in special effects and discovered the substitution stop trick. He was the first to manipulate reality through film. The first the realize the power of cinematography.

Two of his most well-known films are A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904). Both stories involve strange, surreal voyages, somewhat in the style of Jules Verne, and are considered among the most important early science fiction films. Just think low-tech Doctor Who.

Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès was born 8 December 1861 in Paris. He worked as a boot maker for his parents where he learned to sew and was then sent to England where he discovered a love for magic. Against his families wishes he secretly worked at a magic theater. He was director, producer, writer, set and costume designer as well as inventing many of the magical tricks.

When the Lumière brothers unveiled their film, La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière à Lyon (Workers leaving the Lumiére Factory), to the public on December 28 1895 Méliès was a member of the audience. This piece of film is referred to as the first film ever made. The film used was 17 meters long and was hand-cranked through a projector. It lasted approximately 50 seconds.

The Lumière brothers stated that "the cinema is an invention without any future" and declined to sell their camera to other filmmakers including Georges Méliès. This made many film makers upset. Consequently, their role in the history of film was exceedingly brief and they continued on to things like color photography.

Luckily, Méliès saw the promise of film. In 1896, Méliès was filming a simple street scene when his camera jammed. It took him a few seconds to fix the problem. Thinking no more about the incident, Méliès continued with the film. He was surprised by the effect the few seconds had on the film when he processed it. Objects suddenly appeared, disappeared or were transformed into other objects.

Méliès directed 531 films between 1896 and 1913, ranging in length from one to forty minutes. In subject matter they were often similar to the magic shows that Méliès had done earlier, containing "tricks" and impossible events, such as objects disappearing or changing size. These early special effects films did not have a plot. The special effects were used only to show what was possible, rather than enhance the overall plot.
"In May 1902 Méliès made his most famous film, A Trip to the Moon. The film includes the celebrated scene in which a spaceship hits the man in the moon in the eye; it was loosely based on Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon and H. G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon. In the film Méliès stars as Professor Barbenfouillis, a character similar to the astronomer he played in The Astronomer's Dream in 1898. Professor Barbenfouillis is president of the Astronomer's Club and oversees an expedition to the Moon. A space vehicle in the form of a large artillery shell is built in his laboratory, and he uses it to lead six men on a voyage to the moon. The vehicle is shot out of a large cannon and hits the Man in the Moon in the eye. The six men explore the moon's surface before going to sleep. As they dream, constellations dance around them and they are attacked by a group of moon men, played by acrobats from the Folies Bergère. They are chased back to their space-ship and then somehow fall from the moon back to earth, landing in the ocean (where a superimposed fish tank creates the illusion of the deep ocean). Eventually the six men return to their laboratory and are celebrated by adoring supporters. At 14 minutes, it was Méliès's longest film up to that date and cost 10,000 francs to produce. The film was an enormous success in France and around the world, and Méliès sold both black and white and hand-colored versions to exhibitioners."  -Wikipedia

You can watch the film in its entirety here.

This film was so immensely popular that producers such as Thomas Edison, Siegmund Lubin and Carl Laemmle pirated copies (yes, it existed back then too) and made huge amounts of money off them.

When the war came, his films became less popular. People were more concerned with other things. His films were melted down and used to make soles for shoes

In 1923 he was declared bankrupt and his beloved Theatre Robert Houdin was demolished. Méliès almost disappeared into obscurity until the late 1920’s when his substantial contribution to cinema was recognised by the French and he was presented with the Legion of Honour and given a rent free apartment where he spent the remaining years of his life.

Georges Méliès died in 1938 after making over five hundred films in total - financing, directing, photographing and starring in nearly every one.


  1. oh wow........I learned so much....!!

    1. haha. I couldn't get the youtube to post the video with it, but I finally managed :D
      I'm going to do a report on him for history!!!